Tag Archives: homelessness

Pregnant & Homeless in St. Paul

Mark Horvath Talking to Ka'e k'eA couple weeks ago homeless advocate Mark Horvath (aka @hardlynormal) came to town on his national InvisiblePeople.tv road trip. Last year when he came to town I accompanied him to downtown St. Paul as he handed out socks and talked to homeless people, capturing their stories in poignant, uncut videos.

This year we made a shorter trip and talked to fewer people, but it was even more impacting. Because we talked to Ka’e k’e, a 20-year-old homeless pregnant woman. As Mark would say (and did say), I’m wrecked.

Her story is hard to watch because she’s so painfully honest. She’s pregnant because for a while she was couch surfing, and at times that meant survival sex was the only thing keeping a roof over her head. That’s right, men would tell her to take her clothes off or get out, and in the middle of a Minnesota winter walking out the door doesn’t seem like a good choice. As a result, she doesn’t know who the father of her child is.

She says she doesn’t believe in abortion, so here she is, pregnant and homeless at the Dorothy Day Center in downtown St. Paul. That says something about what pro-life advocates need to be doing.

She also admits to doing drugs, even though she knows it isn’t good for the baby. When Mark confronts her, she says it’s hard not to turn to something when you’re under such stress. I don’t condone what she’s doing, but I understand it. A hard day with the kids and I turn to food and drink as comfort. Others turn to alcohol and in worse conditions I can imagine turning to drugs seeming like a good idea. It’s obviously a horrible idea, but you try living on the street and not wanting a little escapism.

Ka’e k’e also has a 5-year-old son out there. I don’t know the story there, but I can imagine. She also has a family out there somewhere—some kind of family.

This is the reality of homelessness in America.

When I told Yeshumnesh about meeting Ka’e k’e, she said her heart was worried. I had to explain Mark’s concept of being wrecked. Because that’s what this story is.

Homelessness is real. Ka’e k’e is someone’s daughter. She’s someone’s mother. And her and millions of others like her need help.

Watch her story, open your eyes and do something.

We Are Visible: Connecting Homeless People

Mark Horvath is at it again. The founder of InvisiblePeople.tv has put that Pepsi money to good use and launched WeAreVisible.com, a site that connects homeless people to social media.

I can see folks scoffing already—why do homeless people need Facebook?!—but those are the folks who don’t get the power of social media. Those are the folks who don’t realize that Mark Horvath has been doing this since 2008 and funded two cross-country trips with the power of social media. These are the folks who don’t realize the power of having a voice.

Homeless people are often powerless, voiceless and invisible. But they’re not helpless. WeAreVisible.com educates them about tools that can make them visible again.

And it works. The site includes stories of homeless people who have been empowered by social media.

I love seeing Mark in action. I just wish my InvisiblePeople.tv book was out and raising support for efforts like this. Soon. The book is so close.

What is Social Media Good For? Ask Johnny

If you’re one of those people who doesn’t get the blogging or the Twitface and always scratches your head wondering what this stuff is good for, well, just ask Johnny. I talked about him the other day: Johnny is a disabled veteran who has been living in his mobile home until it got impounded. His very home was impounded and he had to live on the streets in his wheelchair for 19 days.

Thanks to Mark Horvath of InvisiblePeople.tv spreading the word through social media, he was able to raise an additional $345 to go with the $280 Johnny had raised on his own and get his home out of the impound.

Here’s the story:

Helping the homeless doesn’t have to be so hard.

If you’re in the Twin Cities, there’s a local ‘sleep in your car’ event organized by a guy who sleeps in his car. It’s an opportunity to experience what the homeless experience every day and get motivated to do something about it.

Raggedy Edge, Women Vote! & Homeless Vet’s Home Impounded

“So here is us, on the raggedy edge. Don’t push me and I won’t push you.”

I think that quote from the beginning of Serenity sums up my life nicely right about now. Too bad I’m feeling pushed.

Moving on to better things.

Go Women
Today is the 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. It’s hard to believe that before 1920 women couldn’t vote in this country.

Go Mark
And my friend Mark Horvath is traveling the country again, telling the stories of the homeless. Today he told us about Johnny (or is it Jimmy? Update: It’s Johnny), a disabled veteran who needs $350 to get his mobile home out of the impound. You can help by making a donation. Here’s the full story on what happened to Johnny.

Update: Johnny got his home back. Thanks!

(And wow, that felt like a disjointed blog post from 2004.)

Spending the Night at Church with Homeless Families

One month a year my church hosts the county’s overflow shelter for homeless families. It’s called Project Home and it’s something I’ve supported for a while now. It’s the organization we were raising money for when we spent a night homeless.

This week I finally volunteered for the organization, sleeping over at my church on Monday night as an overnight volunteer and spending Tuesday evening there as well. There were four families spending the night at our church, five adults and 11 kids. They spend the day at family shelters, finding services they need, working or whatever they need to do, and come to our church for around 12 hours, from after supper until the morning. We offer snacks and breakfast, and then provide whatever they may need. Usually that means keeping the kids entertained while the adults relax.

It’s an eye-opening experience. These are families being chewed up by poverty and the economy. You can see how out of sorts the kids are, in a strange place with new volunteers every night and parents who are pushed to the edge. And I said we’re the overflow shelter—we’re actually the overflow for the overflow shelter. Some months there’s even a third overflow shelter. The need is tremendous.

I’ve been wanting to volunteer with Project Home for a long time, and this year it got to the point where I don’t think I could face my good friend Mark Horvath if I hadn’t volunteered with Project Home. Mark is good at kicking my butt that way.

While I’m glad I finally volunteered, and I’m up for doing it again, I felt completely inadequate. I’m not the outgoing, talkative person who strikes up conversations with ease. I did my job, but I never felt like I did it very well. I guess I felt like these families deserved something more. And they do.

Geeks Doing Good: Help Mark Horvath Win $50,000

The SXSW Interactive Festival is going on this weekend in Austin, Texas. It’s a bigtime collection of web geeks (and yes, I so wish I could be there). The cool thing about web geeks is that they care about causes. There are a lot of online competitions happening this weekend to raise money for various causes, all in geeky fun.

There are probably others I’ve missed, but I’m most excited about Mark Horvath and the Pepsi Challenge. Here’s how it works: He’s competing against two others to see who can get the most votes by midnight on Monday. Winner gets a $50,000 grant from Pepsi. You vote by tweeting “#RefreshGary” and you can vote every two hours. All the details are on Pepsi’s Facebook page (vote on Twitter, details on Facebook?).

I’ve talked about Mark before. He’s a tireless advocate for the homeless. When he lost his job in the fall of 2008 he was only seven weeks away from being homeless. Again. He spent a year in the 1990s living on the streets of Hollywood. But instead of worrying about being homeless himself, he went out and started InvisiblePeople.tv to tell the story of other homeless people. He’s been doing that since, and the entire time he’s been on the verge of homelessness.

He lives in a cockroach apartment in Los Angeles. I interviewed him for an article a few months back and the contents of his fridge was a bottle of water, milk and a discount veggie tray. He was eating dinner at the homeless shelter, not because he wanted to, but because he had to.

If anybody could use $50,000 from Pepsi, it’s Mark.

Mark started InvisiblePeople.tv with next to nothing. Yet he’s shared the uncensored stories of over 100 homeless people, from Los Angeles to New York, Florida to Seattle, New Orleans to St. Paul. He’s done incredible things with no resources. Imagine what he could do with $50,000.

I get kind of tired of these social network voting things where we spam our friends and the most popular person wins. But I can hardly consider telling my friends about Mark Horvath to be spam. If you get tired of it, you can ignore me. If it makes you mad, stop following me. If I lose a bunch of followers because I tried to help my friend, so be it. If you don’t like it then you can give Mark $50,000 and I’ll be quiet. I just want to help my friend.

So I’m asking you to help Mark out. We only have until midnight tomorrow. So hop on your Twitter account and slap a “#RefreshGary” tag on your tweets every two hours. If you don’t have a Twitter account, set one up just for today. Why not?

Geeks doing good. What’s not to love?

Update: Here’s a story Mark shared from my own backyard. Pearl calls a shelter in St. Paul her home. She wants to know if you’re kind or cold-hearted? This why Mark deserves this grant from Pepsi, so he can continue to share these stories and make us realize the reality of homelessness in our own cities.

Pearl from InvisiblePeople.tv on Vimeo.

Mark Horvath on CNN.com

InvisiblePeople.tv's Mark Horvath on CNN.comMy day started by seeing the face of my friend Mark Horvath on the front page of CNN.com. Mark Horvath is a tireless advocate for the homeless and founder of InvisiblePeople.tv. Earlier this year Mark did a national road trip and spent a day in the Twin Cities, giving us a chance to hang out. CNN did an in-depth feature on his work, including a video and a lengthy article.

It’s a pretty great feature and hopefully a boost to Mark’s efforts to help the homeless. As the article notes, “He isn’t making money from this, but he’s doing this to make a difference,” says Heather Meeker. “You can’t say that about many people.”

Mark has been living on the ragged edge just shy of homelessness himself (again) for more than a year now. He barely pays his bills. He doesn’t have health insurance. His ghetto apartment sounds kind of scary. And yet he treated my wife and I to dinner when he was in town. That’s the kind of guy he is. He’s an inspiration.

And he’s not just a jolly do-gooder. He’s fiercely passionate about his cause and will get worked up at injustice, the way we all should. I think he actually allows the things he sees to wreck him, to bowl over his walls and break his heart. Most of us (myself included) can only take so much and we turn away. I’ll admit I’ve only watched a fraction of the videos on InvisiblePeople.tv. They’re just too brutal. But any time I need that shot of reality, I know where to find it. Mark is a constant challenge to my own life of comfort and ease.

It’s cool to see him featured on CNN (getting higher billing than Obama’s announcement that 30,000 troops are going to Afghanistan) and I hope it translates to more support. Right now he runs the site on donations and pays rent with a temp job at a homeless shelter. I’ve actually been shocked that some homeless organization hasn’t just started paying him to run InvisiblePeople.tv and keep it going. It’d be an incredible investment and a no-brainer marketing move, even if the organization was an invisible partner—I think Mark does that much good for telling the real story of homelessness.

Homeless Again: Cardboard Box City 2009 Recap

So last Thursday I spent the night outside. It was part of Cardboard Box City, an event designed to raise money and support for homeless shelters in the Twin Cities. We raise money for two emergency overflow shelters for families, Families Moving Forward and Project Home, and then sleep outside to get a tiny taste of what homelessness is really like.

Thursday morning it snowed. The overnight low was 35 with a 30-40% chance of precipitation. This year it was moist, but the snow and rain mostly held off. Last year I didn’t dress warmly enough (I foolishly packed lightly) so this year I beat the cold with seven layers on top and four on bottom. Last year when I did this I got sick and had an awful night. This year I managed to stay healthy, but I still didn’t have fun.

Homelessness sucks. There’s no putting a pretty spin on it. After my tiny glimpse of homeless life I got to go home. All my needs were met and I didn’t have to worry about my next meal, my next place to stay, what would happen to my kids or even deal with the emotional crisis that goes along with losing everything.

Continue reading Homeless Again: Cardboard Box City 2009 Recap

I’m Going to be Homeless, Again

Handing Out SocksLast year I particpated in Cardboard Box City, an event where nearly 500 people slept outside at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds and raised $11,000 to help the homeless. It sucked. I ended up getting sick in the middle of the night and having no other option but to stick it out. Basically I had a much more real homeless experience than I planned on, and it’s not any fun.

I’m doing it again this year on Thursday, Oct. 15.

Honestly, I don’t really want to. But nobody wants to be homeless. This is a small act of solidarity with the homeless to experience the tiniest taste of what they go through every day. And a chance to do some good. We’ll be raising money for the event to support Families Moving Forward and Project Home, two organizations that provide emergency shelters in the Twin Cities.

That kind of shelter is in high demand with the continuing recession. Last month I talked with a number of homeless people in downtown St. Paul with homeless advocate Mark Horvath. It was amazing and heart-breaking to hear the stories of people who had lost jobs or had one calamity too many and ended up on the street or living in their car. Most of them had become homeless in the past few months. The stereotypical view of the chronically homeless is not the norm. The majority of the people Project Home helps are children.

Your Turn
You can help the homeless in the Twin Cities by making a donation.

  • Homeless for a Night – I’ve set up a cause on Facebook that lets you donate and recruit your friends to the cause. It’s a great way to spread the word. (There is a minimum donation of $10 on this site.)
  • Donate Online – If you’re not Facebook savvy, you can use this online form and donate directly to the St. Paul Council of Churches (the nonprofit behind Project Home). The online form is a little convoluted, but on step 2 the 5th item lets you designate your gift to Project Home. Next you can note that your gift is for “Cardboard Box City.”
  • Donate w/ PayPal – You can make a donation directly to me using PayPal and I’ll pass the funds on to Cardboard Box City. This method would not be tax deductible.
  • Donate by Check – Make your check payable to “FMF” or “SPACC-Project Home” and send it to me (contact me for my mailing address). This method is tax deductible.
  • Donate in Person – If you’re in the Twin Cities you can just give me cash or check (made payable to “FMF” or “SPACC-Project Home”). This is also tax deductible, assuming you give me your address so they can mail you a receipt.

I hope you’ll consider making a donation and supporting my sleep out for homelessness.

If you want to learn more about homelessness, spend some time with Mark Horvath on InvisiblePeople.tv as he talks with the homeless and shares their stories. You can also check out 10 ways you can help the homeless for specific ways you can help (the advice on responding to panhandling is especially helpful).

Homeless Advocate Mark Horvath

Mark Horvath Ready for ActionA couple weeks ago homeless advocate Mark Horvath came through the Twin Cities on his InvisiblePeople.tv road trip. I had the chance to hang out with Mark, see him in action and briefly join him in his work.

We went to the Dorothy Day Center in downtown St. Paul (driving in the fancy Ford Escape Hybrid that Ford generously loaned Mark for the trip), handed out socks courtesy of Hanes and talked to homeless people. Mark tapped away on his iPhone, posting updates to Twitter, pictures to Posterous and recording video for InvisiblePeople.tv. It was a humbling experience, especially hearing their stories of facing one hardship too many and losing it all. Many of them had lost jobs and homes recently and were on the street thanks to the current recession. A homeless ministry was serving lunch while we were there and a number of people kept coming up and asking them for blankets and sleeping bags. Cold is coming in Minnesota.

Handing Out SocksI really value Mark’s perspective on the homelessness issue because he’s been there before and understands it in a way many people don’t. He also understands the practical realities. Frankly, it’s devastating to walk out here and talk to people, knowing I have a cozy warm bed and home, plenty of blankets, sheets and even a spare room. Whatever I’m doing to help the homeless, there’s always more I could do. I realize inviting a stranger into my house isn’t always practical (nor approved by my wife), but tell that to the person sleeping on the sidewalk. I don’t know how Mark has traveled the country doing this. He always talks about it wrecking him, and now I can understand why.

A few people asked me for money and I had to say no. I could empty my bank account handing out cash, but who knows what good it would do. I took great comfort in the garbage bag of brand new Hanes socks we were handing out. The very least I could do was hand out socks and listen.

Mark called me one of his heroes, but I don’t get that. He’s the hero. He’s the one practically homeless himself, living on the ragged edge without a real job or steady income trying to tell the stories of the homeless. On Tuesday night my wife and I took Mark out to dinner. It was my wife’s birthday and we’d gotten a babysitter so we could have some actual conversation with Mark. When the check came I got totally schooled in the credit card draw. Mark had grabbed the bill and slapped down his card before I could even react. Even the waitress was impressed. I tried to protest but it was too late. Mark insisted and paid for our dinner, including dessert. That’s the kind of guy he is. He’s the hero.

Check out InvisiblePeople.tv and watch the stories of homeless people. Hear them. See them. Open your eyes and your heart. If you want to know more about helping the homeless, Mark suggested this resource, 10 actions you can take to end homelessness. If you want to support Mark and the work of InvisiblePeople.tv, you can make a tax deductible donation online.